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‘Carnival Row’: Amazon’s Latest Is a Mystical Misfire

Amazon’s new fantasy series is a disappointing amalgamation of familiar elements and underwhelming storytelling.

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Carnival Row, Amazon’s new foray into the supernatural, is a pastiche of elements from so many other series: at one moment, it tries to channel the Victorian gloom of Penny Dreadful, while in another, it fancies itself as an “adult” Once Upon a Time – aka, it has a penchant for fairy tits and an unusually graphic amount of bloodletting. Throw in a fully-realized world (full of real-world sociopolitical parallels) built from a wholly original concept (no, this is not an adaptation), and it might seem Carnival Row is poised to be the next great fantasy series; and yet, it is one of the most lifeless series I’ve seen in 2019, an abundantly familiar show drowned by leaden starring performances and a silly, superficial plot that more than overextends its stay during the first season’s eight-episode run.

Carnival Row is instantly forgettable, a mush of familiar concepts and ideas that never coalesce into anything truly resonant, or even mildly entertaining.

Most reviews you’ll read this week about Carnival Row will most likely lean into the very thin parallels between it and Game of Thrones: they both have elaborate mythologies, fantastical settings, and a wide array of supporting characters. But that is where the similarities end: much of Carnival Row‘s world building, as impressive as it may be in concept, just feels like world building for the sake of doing it: the many, many info dumps about a world shared by humans, faes, minotaurs, humans with ram horns, etc, etc. It’s like a highly glorified, well-budgeted fantasy cosplay convention (one that once had Guillermo del Toro attached, no less), evocative of so much familiar fiction, yet unable to tether itself to anything that feels truly original, or even worth seeing to the conclusion.

Carnival Row

This issue of weightlessness carries through every element of the series, including the lead performances from Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne, who play former lovers and soldiers-turned detective and immigrant (respectively) when brought to the “new” world of 7th century The Burgue (which looks a lot like 19th century London, including rumors of a man named Jack running around “ripping” people’s faces off).

Bloom, as one might expect, offers no nuance to the ridiculously-named role of Rycroft Philostrate, a hard-boiled detective with a pocket full of personal regrets. It’s a two-pronged issue: the writing never asks Bloom to step outside his comfort zone of “vaguely good-looking and slightly concerned,” and Bloom never tries to push the envelope, fading indistinctly into the web of forgettable minor characters – which run the gamut from bitchy rich girl trying not to go poor, to fae prostitutes, to corrupt politicians and their wives, and the games they play for power (the lead political characters are played by Chernobyl‘s Jared Harris and Game of Thrones‘ Indira Varma, which at least inject some personality into the few scenes they’re offered each episode).

Bloom’s weak performance ultimately brings down the core elements of the series: both the murder mystery and the romance suffer from his character’s unconvincing presence in the narrative. Delevingne’s at least better casted, the scrappy action heroine chops she showed in the (otherwise disappointing) Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets proving a better foundation to build her character, the (equally) ludicrously named Vignette Stonemoss.

Carnival Row

As Stonemoss, Delevingne is equal parts scrappy and raw, elements that come to life in the few moments when Carnival Row untethers Vignette from the collection of genre tropes it constructs its stories around. However, those moments are few and far in between, and most of Vignette’s big moments are built around her and Philo’s interactions, a chemistry-free romance that only furthers the underwhelming sense of facsimile running through the heart of the series.

That being said, Carnival Row isn’t completely and utterly void of redeeming qualities: it is a rather earnest attempt to build an intriguing, relevant world of fantasy, albeit one built on an convoluted foundation of overwrought cliches (and one of the more underwhelming central romances in recent memory). However, Carnival Row has no sense of pacing and tone, content to mash up half-baked ideas (for example, all the immigrant faes have Irish accents) and familiar tropes, all in favor of an underwhelming murder mystery and even more disappointing romance.

Carnival Row

Knowing Marc Guggenheim was going to be the show runner for Carnival Row initially had me excited, even after watching the boring-as-nails pilot: with so many different, strange elements to pull from, it seemed a natural playground for the EP behind Legends of Tomorrow to bring that show’s trademark unhinged chaos to: and yet, Carnival Row feels a lot closer to his Green Lantern script than The CW’s signature, groundbreaking superhero series.

Carnival Row, for all its trappings, characters, and fantasy elements, is a surprisingly simple, straightforward fare: and in the end, that’s the most disappointing part of the eight-episode first season (it’s already been renewed for a second season, of course). There’s just no risks being taken, no commitment to being truly unique or meaningful – be it the writing, the performances, or the show’s lackluster sociopolitical commentary, everything on Carnival Row is just dry. And for a show that purports the depth of its own imagination so frequently with filler backstory, it makes for a rather neutered, lifeless watch.

The most fervent fans of this particular brand of fantasy might be entertained enough to make it through all eight hours – but for most, Carnival Row is instantly forgettable, a mush of concepts and ideas that never coalesce into anything truly resonant, or even mildly entertaining.

A TV critic since the pre-Peak TV days of 2011, Randy is a critic and editor formerly of Sound on Sight, Processed Media, TVOvermind, Pop Optiq, and many, many others.

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Bryce Carlson

    September 12, 2019 at 8:02 pm

    I read your review and while I feel you are entitled to your opinion I feel that you either did not pay attention to what you were watching or that you are not competent to handle layers of nuance that are built into the show. However, good you.

    • linda Doucett

      September 26, 2019 at 12:29 am

      I concur with the review…. boring and dull
      very disappointing

    • Kate

      November 16, 2019 at 11:55 am

      I thought it would be good as I enjoy quirky shows. This bored me to death! Watched 3 episodes… ZZZZZ. I may finish episode 4 but not looking forward to it! Dreary, dark and depressing.
      Still not sure what the plot is…..

  2. Dominique Wheeler

    September 16, 2019 at 2:23 am

    I’m sorry but were we watching the same series? You are more than entitled to you opinion but everybody who I know who’s seen it ,myself included absolutely LOVED it! It was suspenseful and beautiful! The soundtrack was amazing too! Well that’s my opinion anyway..

    • Kate

      November 16, 2019 at 12:00 pm

      I have read people either love it or hate it. As a GOT fan I was hooked from the 1st espisode….. same with TWD. May watch another episode of Carnival Row in fairness maybe I’m missing something? So far “meh”.

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Wrestling

Royal Rumble 2020: The Good, The Bad, and The Tolerable

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Royal Rumble 2020 Review

Saying the Royal Rumble is the hottest of the big four pay-per-views in WWE is not a hot take. Sure, it the first stage of setting the card for WrestleMania. Fans love the actual Royal Rumble match because truly anything can happen in it.

Some of the biggest returns and debuts have happened in that match. Winning it has made wrestlers into superstars. Anyone could win the Royal Rumble and go on to headline WrestleMania. Usually, the person you expect to win does. Sometimes, it’s the person you least expect.

The 2020 edition of the Royal Rumble pay-per-view was the third one to feature two Royal Rumble matches; one for the women and one for the men. Both matches were solid with the right amount of surprises.

Royal Rumble Pre-Show

The two-hour Royal Rumble Pre-Show is filled with video packages and analysis that are somewhat tedious to watch. If it was half an hour, that would be okay. But two hours is a lot to sit through. Fortunately, they usually manage to sneak a couple of matches in.

The returning Sheamus took on Shorty G in an attempt to prove that the SmackDown locker room is weak and lazy. Picking on a guy half your size is always a great way to show people how tough you are. It was a surprisingly competitive and engaging match, with both men getting some good spots in.

Ultimately, Sheamus won but Shorty G still looked good.

Andrade lights up Humberto Carillo on the Royal Rumble Pre-Show.

The second match was Humberto Carrillo taking on Andrade for the United States Championship. Both men are incredible talents who play very well off each other in the ring. Andrade won but Carrillo is a future champion.

Falls Count Anywhere Match

The feud between King Corbin and Roman Reigns feels like it’s been going on for far too long. It jumped the shark when Corbin and friends broke out the dog food. Hopefully, their match at the Royal Rumble is the wrap-up and the Big Dog can move onto something else.

Corbin hits Reigns with a chair out in the crowd.

Reigns and Corbin took a trip around the arena, making use of the Astro’s home field. Naturally, Robert Roode and Dolph Ziggler showed up to interfere. The Usos had their cousin’s back, though.

It came down to Roman beating the King down and pinning him for the victory. The match definitely was solid but nothing special. The audience isn’t super into Corbin so the energy in the arena seemed a little low.

The biggest spot of the match came from one of the Usos, and not the actual competitors.

Women’s Royal Rumble Match

For the third year in a row, the Women’s Royal Rumble match did not disappoint.

NXT was well represented this year. Bianca Belair came in at number two and was a one-woman wrecking crew for a significant portion of the match. She ended up eliminating eight people, as did Shaya Baszler. Combined, they took out 16 of the 30 competitors.

Among the surprise entrants were “Mighty” Molly Holly, Kelly Kelly, Beth Phoenix, and Santina Marella. For those who were confused by that one, Santina Marella is the alter ego of former superstar Santino Marella. She eliminated herself, a funny moment that was lost on a lot of the audience.

That being said, it was a shame that one of the many great current competitors in the division didn’t get Santina’s spot.

It’s worth mentioning how good Molly Holly looked in the ring. She was underrated when she was an active member of the roster so it’s always nice to see her get some respect. There has to be a place for her in the modern era of wrestling.

Naomi returns at the Royal Rumble.

One of the headlines was the return of Naomi, who has been away for some time. She looked like she didn’t have an ounce of ring rust on her. It remains to be seen if this was a one-night deal or if she’s back for good.

Ultimately, Charlotte Flair won and will go on to headline WrestleMania against one of the women’s champions, probably Becky. Charlotte is a great wrestler, but she was the safest bet for the WWE in the match. It would have been nice to see someone unexpected, but deserving get the shot.

Bayley vs Lacey Evans

The heat on this Royal Rumble bout has been building for weeks. Bayley’s heel turn has made her more relevant than ever. It’s also nice that she has been given a respectably long reign as the SmackDown Women’s Champion. On the other hand, Lacey Evans sudden face turn was a bit surprising, but she wears it well.

Bayley tries to choke out Lacey Evans.

A year ago, Bayley would have been the face and Lacey would have been the heel in this match.

Overall, this was a solid women’s title match. Lacey looked good for the most part as did Bayley. The end came at a rather surprising moment with Bayley grabbing a handful of Lacey’s tights for the pinfall to retain the belt.

Daniel Bryan vs “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt

Daniel Bryan’s return to the Yes Movement, plus his new, clean look, has put him back in the title picture. Unfortunately, that title picture features the current Universal Champion, “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt.

Bryan takes the strap to The Fiend.

After already losing to Wyatt and being repeatedly attacked by him, Bryan felt the smart move was to attach himself to “The Fiend” with a leather strap. Nope.

“The Fiend” made his traditional creepy entrance and proceeded to destroy Bryan. Eventually, Bryan came around and took it to “The Fiend.” The match was as brutal as expected with Wyatt coming out on top and Bryan left the Royal Rumble with some ugly wounds.

But the big story of the match is that it did not happen under only red lights, which was really nice. You could actually see what was happening. With any luck, this is how “The Fiend” will wrestle from now on. That red light thing made it difficult to enjoy his matches.

Becky Lynch vs Asuka

The rivalry between Becky Lynch and Asuka has taken a backseat to other storylines, but it has always been there. Lynch asked for the match so she could settle the score between them and finally move on.

Becky retains her championship at the Royal Rumble.

This match was as good as you’d expect from two such accomplished and talented in-ring performers in the company. It was highly competitive with a lot of incredible spots for both competitors. When Lynch and Asuka get in a ring together, they make pure magic.

In the end, Lynch retained her championship, but it was a hard-fought victory. This was arguably the best singles match Asuka has wrestled in the past year. Even though she didn’t win, she looked like the Asuka of old, and on the verge of total domination again.

Men’s Royal Rumble Match

Fans were justifiably concerned when Paul Heyman announced that Brock Lesnar would enter at number one in the Royal Rumble this year. WWE has a bad habit of putting him over in spite of themselves. What does WrestleMania look like if the WWE Champion wins the Royal Rumble?

As luck would have it, no one has to know the answer thanks to Ricochet and Drew McIntyre.

Lesnar tore through the first 13 superstars who came out after him. Number 15 was Ricochet, who was dominated. McIntyre was the next competitor out. Ricochet hit Lesnar with the low blow, then McIntyre hit him with the Claymore Kick straight out of the ring.

McIntyre wins the Men’s Royal Rumble Match.

Lesnar’s elimination was one of the biggest pops of the night. Drew stared holes through Lesnar until he left the arena. It was a clear indication of who he is going to challenge.

NXT was not as well represented in the Men’s match as it was the Women’s. Only Keith Lee and Matt Riddle made it into the Royal Rumble. Riddle was quickly eliminated, and apparently got into it backstage with Lesnar, but Lee continued his string of great showings.

Lesnar might have eliminated Lee but Lee stepped to him. Brock even looked a little impressed and that doesn’t happen often.

Men’s Royal Rumble Surprises

The Men’s match only had two surprise entrants, but they were great ones. MVP made his return after a long absence. He was quickly eliminated by Lesnar, but still looked great. The second surprise entrant caught everyone off guard when Edge’s music hit.

Rated RKO reunites at the Royal Rumble.

One of the best in the business was retired by injuries in 2011 and has not wrestled since. He looked amazing, entering at 21, eliminating three people, and making it to the final three. The pop he got when his music started rivaled the one The Hardy Boyz got at WrestleMania 33.

Unfortunately, an odd moment happened with AJ Styles. At one point, the ringside medical staff seemed to be attending to him near the ring apron. He was quickly eliminated by Edge and helped to the back. Hopefully, he is okay.

Beth Phoenix

Excluding the return of MVP, the most valuable player of the evening was Beth Phoenix. She left the announcer’s desk behind to compete in the Royal Rumble again and went on one hell of a run. Beth entered at 21 and hung around until she was taken out by Baszler.

Beth Phoenix wrestled with a nasty head injury.

But at some point during the match, Phoenix got a bad laceration on the back of her head. Her hair was soaked in her own blood, yet she continued the match. The injury actually seemed to make her more aggressive. This was the best she has wrestled in years.

Apparently, the angrier Beth Phoenix gets, the stronger she gets.

Royal Rumble Snubs

There were a lot of current superstars who weren’t included from any roster. The only NXT UK star that appeared was Toni Storm, a surprise since Worlds Collide was the night before. Noticeable by her absence was Sasha Banks, whose presence has been minimal over the last few weeks.

Many people were also hoping for returns from the likes of Nia Jax and Ruby Riott. They also did not appear. People were also looking for CM Punk but that is still a long shot at best. It would have been cool if his music hit, though.

John Morrison deserved better in his Royal Rumble return.

It’s also hard to imagine that John Morrison returned to WWE only to get sacrificed to Brock Lesnar in the Royal Rumble. His time in the ring was only a few seconds, a disappointment since he usually puts on a heck of a show.

Fans also might have been surprised to see that Braun Strowman didn’t face Shinsuke Nakamura for the Intercontinental Championship. That match was thought to be a lock but it didn’t even appear on the Pre-Show. Strowman cannot catch a break in his hunt for a singles title.

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Star Trek: Picard: “Remembrance” Introduces a Different Picard

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star trek picard remembrance

The question ‘which Star Trek captain is your favorite?’ is perhaps one of the easier questions to answer when discussing Star Trek. For all the charm of Captain Kirk and the intimidation that Captain Sisko imposes, none have been quite so complete has Captain Jean-Luc Picard; a role made much easier when the character is portrayed by one of the greatest living actors, Sir Patrick Stewart. So when Star Trek: Picard was announced, expectations were always going to be high, and when the first episode, “Remembrance” aired, expectations were delivered.

In Star Trek: Next Generation, there are some sublime performances by Sir Patrick Stewart that leave Captain Picard as one of the most emotionally distressing characters in the franchise as a whole. From his breakdown in Season 4, Episode 2, when he visits his brother after being detached from the Borg, to Season 6, Episodes 10 and 11, where Picard is interrogated by the Cardassians, resulting in his torture, there have been moments that have changed Picard resulting in the man we see in Star Trek: Picard.

remembrance

Indeed, “Remembrance” was entirely emotional from start to finish. This isn’t a Star Trek of the past but a drama for the future. From the ongoing suspense to the incredible orchestra to help define each moment, this is a different Star Trek to other modern adaptions such as Star Trek: Discovery, with a cliff hanger so intense that I’m not sure whether it’s the Romulans or the Borg to be worrying about.

Remembrance” starts with Picard dreaming about playing poker with Data, only for the planet Mars to ignite in a series of flames and Picard waking up in the panic. Later on, it is shown that synthetic lifeforms attacked Mars previously, which led to a ban on artificial lifeforms in the Federation. This hindered the rescue efforts to save refugees after the Romulan star went supernova, resulting in Picard resigning from Starfleet.

It’s a lot of detail in a relatively short period of time, and Sir Patrick Stewart does a wonderful job of ensuring the mood remains mellow. In fact, it’s a testament to the writers themselves, who have managed to show the viewers the background story in remarkable detail without it feeling too heavy or forced. This sets up perfectly for Picard to meet Dahj, a synthetic lifeform whose life is in danger.

Isa Briones does a fantastic job of portraying the emotional distress that Dahj is in, particularly when her boyfriend is murdered right in front of her eyes. Her strengths are shown in great detail, with numerous small fight scenes with Vulcan assassins, right until her premature death. The problem is sometimes these fight scenes seem like they’ve been taken out of a Marvel film. While it’s great Star Trek continues to adapt to a modern audience, not every feature on TV needs to emulate Marvel; the less of Marvel we have the better.

On that note, it will be interesting to see which direction the series decides to take. Is it going to be more of Picard leading the way in space, or will the series divulge into a Marvel-esque series of action-packed fight scenes? The box has been opened and there are a lot of toys to choose from, let’s hope the writers chose wisely! Or if not, at least we already know Picard can guide the starship, no matter what peril might await us.

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Worlds Collide: NXT vs NXT UK— Another Truly Great PPV

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Worlds Collide: NXT vs NXT UK— Truly Amazing!

Worlds Collide as a brand has been subtly growing within WWE over the past year. The first edition happened on Royal Rumble weekend in 2019. It featured a 15 man tournament with stars from NXT, NXT UK, and 205 Live. The next round happened in New York over the 2019 WrestleMania weekend with matches pitting stars from all WWE shows against each other.

What happened on Saturday was the first Worlds Collide branded pay-per-view event. If you missed it, you missed out. It was amazing.

Build up started at NXT UK TakeOver: BlackPool II, when the Undisputed Era appeared and attacked Imperium as the show went off the air. Since then, matches have been booked that pitted some of the best talents both brands have against each other.

Kay Lee Ray vs Mia Yim

This match went down on the Worlds Collide pre-show but it was at main event quality.

Mia Yim vs Kay Lee Ray on the Worlds Collide Pre Show.

NXT UK Women’s Champion faced off in a singles match against Yim, an incredible start to the rookie pay-per-view. Kay Lee Ray has proven herself to be an excellent heel champ while Yim is over with the fans.

While Yim lost, she looked great doing it. Ray cemented herself as a main event player in this match, as she always does. Yim is ready for the main event so it’s time to put her in the mix.

Finn Bálor vs Ilja Dragunov

For a lot of fans in the arena, Worlds Collide was their first introduction to Ilja Dragunov and they weren’t sure how to feel about him. Unless you watch NXT UK a lot, you’re not going to know him. The crowd didn’t really respond when he came out.

They sure knew Finn Bálor, though.

Dragunov calls out Finn.

Despite the fact that Bálor has gone full heel, fans have not given up cheering for him. They were firmly behind Bálor for the bulk of the match. But as it went on, they got a better look at Dragunov and starter showing him some love.

It was a solid opening match, but not a super memorable one. Dragunov was an odd choice to face Bálor given the depth of talent on NXT UK. Watching him face Joe Coffey would have been better. The crowd really only came alive when Bálor headed for the top rope and finished Dragunov off.

Fatal 4-Way For The NXT Cruiserweight Championship

Bringing the Cruiserweight Division closer to the overall NXT brand is a great decision. Showcasing this title match on Worlds Collide was an even better one. Jordan Devlin, Travis Banks, and Isaiah “Swerve” Scott were all chasing Angel Garza for the NXT Cruiserweight Championship.

This was an absolutely incredible match featuring talent from all over the world. While everyone looked great, Travis Banks, in particular, showed why he belongs in the main event picture. That’s regardless of the brand he’s performing on.

Similarly, Swerve continues to build his personal brand. A championship run is inevitably in his future as every match he has is better than the last.

Devlin with his new NXT Cruiserweight Championship.

Ultimately, Jordan Devlin picked up the surprise, but well deserved, win and became the new champion. It was a surprise simply because Garza won the belt less than two months ago. Plus, no one expected the belt to go to the UK on Worlds Collide.

Still, Devlin will make a great champion. It will be interesting to see how that belt moving across an ocean will play out in the long term.

#DIY vs Moustache Mountain

There was no championship on the line. There was no bad blood between them. This was just two truly great tag teams going at it in a match that stole the show on Worlds Collide.

Moustache Mountain’s Trent Seven and Tyler Bate are mainstays of the NXT UK. On NXT, the reunited members of #DIY, Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa, are core to the brand. Having these two teams face off was an incredibly meaningful moment.

The match was lighthearted at times, filled with moments that were genuinely funny. Once the match got rolling, each of the four superstars got to show why they are as respected as they are in the industry. They are truly four of the best in the business, in any company.

Good sportsmanship at Worlds Collide.

#DIY won but that almost didn’t matter. To borrow an apt cliche, those who watched were the true winners. After the match, the two teams shared an honest moment of sportsmanship, something fans rarely get to see in a wrestling ring.

Rhea Ripley vs Toni Storm

Worlds Collide was the first challenge for the new NXT Champion, Rhea Ripley. She was the inaugural NXT UK Women’s Champion but lost the title to Toni Storm. Ripley never had a rematch before moving to NXT.

Toni Storm is ready to fight at Worlds Collide.

During her NXT UK tenure, Ripley only lost two singles matches, one of which cost her a championship. Unsurprisingly, she wanted to redeem that by successfully defending her new championship from Storm, which she did.

The match was well executed but not particularly engaging. Storm got the title shot by asking for it, and without having to earn it through competition. There wasn’t really enough build-up to it to hook the audience in fully.

Fortunately, both wrestlers are great enough at what they do to sell anything in the ring.

Undisputed Era vs Imperium

NXT and NXT UK both have dominant four-man factions who have devastated the competition. It only makes sense to have them face off on Worlds Collide.

While the Walter-led Imperium is always looking to rule the ring, Undisputed Era was hungrier for the win. Keith Lee broke the UE prophecy when he took Roderick Strong’s North American Championship in an epic match the Wednesday before the pay-per-view.

But early in the match, Imperium found themselves a man down when Alexander Wolfe was legit knocked out. He took a rough shot from Bobby Fish and Roderick Strong. The ref stopped the match and the doctors took him to the back. Wolfe never returned to the match.

Walter kills.

This left Imperium with a four to three disadvantage, which made their win even more impressive. Everyone looked great, but Walter stole the match as always. He brutalized everyone he was in the ring with and fans were firmly behind him. WWE would be well advised to make good use of him going forward. The man is a star!

After the pay-per-view was over, Triple H confirmed Wolfe’s injury but not the severity of it. Wolfe tweeted that he was fine, thanking the ref and medical staff for taking care of him. Hopefully, it’s nothing that will keep him down for long.

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